Highlands & Islands

Scottish soldier's diary tells of horror at New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans re-enactment Image copyright Reuters

Earlier this month, the BBC Scotland news website told of a Scottish regiment's "forgotten battle" fought on US soil 200 years ago.

The Battle of New Orleans on 8 January 1815 was a result of Britain and America's War of 1812. US forces defeated a British army in the clash, which is still commemorated in the States today.

A reader has come forward with the diary of long distant grandfather from Kilmarnock who fought at the battle.


David Brown, a sergeant with the 21st North British Fusiliers, wrote Diary of a Soldier 1805-1827.

It details his long years of military service, including his deployment to America.

There, along with soldiers from other British regiments - including the 93rd (Sutherland) - sailors and marines, he saw action at the Battle of New Orleans.

It was an unnecessary fight. Britain and the US had signed a peace treaty in the Flemish city of Ghent the previous month, December 1814, but word arrived in America too late to prevent the clash near New Orleans.

'Nothing but horror'

On the day of the battle, the British advanced on an American force protected by a canal, ditches and earthworks.

In his diary, Sgt Brown tells how ladders and large bundles of brushwood, known as fascines, needed for scaling the US defences had not been brought forward as planned.

The misunderstanding left the British troops standing at the defences and vulnerable to rifle and cannon fire.

Sgt Brown wrote: "The signal being given for the columns to advance to the attack, there was nothing but horror to be seen, for the engagement did not last above half an hour when the whole army was defeated.

"There were a great number of regiments got into the ditch, but they were all killed, wounded or taken prisoners.

"Many a brave officer and soldier was killed and wounded that day."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Anniversaries of the Battle of New Orleans are marked in the US

Sgt Brown went on: "I am very sorry to say that the army was forced to retreat in the greatest confusion that day, leaving behind them all their killed and wounded, and many a gallant officer and man wiped the tears from their eyes when they looked back and saw their comrades lying in the field and could give them no assistance."

General Sir Edward Pakenham, who had overall command of the British troops, was killed.

There were 2,000 British casualties, with the 93rd among the units suffering some of the heaviest losses. As many as 550 of the regiment were either dead, wounded or missing.

Sgt Brown wrote of heavy casualties among the Light Brigade in its storming a gun battery.

He added: "A short time after the action we sent in a flag of truce for them to allow us to bury the dead, which was granted.

"The wounded being carried off and all the dead being buried, we retreated back to our first position and remained there until the evening of the 19th, when we retreated in good order, leaving only a few guns, which were spiked and buried underground."

The 21st North British Fusiliers and other elements of the British Army and Royal Navy were eventually pulled out of the US in February 1815.

After he left the army, Sgt Brown lived a more peaceful life as a bookseller in Dalry in Ayrshire.

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